Does your wardrobe rely largely on sweatshop labor? Did your morning coffee or tea come from a struggling, underpaid farmer? Goods you enjoy every day may result from someone else’s suffering; alternatively, the brands you choose to support may be supporting families and individuals around the world. But how can you know whether your purchases are helping or hurting others?
There are plenty of different labels out there that try to sell you on the “ethical merits” of a product: organic, natural, non-GMO, locally sourced, and fair trade among them. Some of these terms are meaningful and regulated, but how can you tell when a company is truly committed to the claims they make on a label? The jargon can really muddy the water and make it difficult to sort out truly ethical business practices from cynical advertising.
There are federal and state-level standards that products must meet for labeling, and some certifications (such as organic) require government oversight. Fairtrade certifications aren’t given by a government agency, instead, the term encompasses several different kinds of certifications organized by independent non-profits. In many cases, the standards to which products are held are no less rigorous than government certifications, but not all fair trade stamps have the same process behind them. So, what does the fair trade label mean, really?
Learning what fair trade is all about, and how to recognize the different types of labeling will help you make purchasing decisions that align with your personal ethics and philosophy. To begin, what does fair trade certified mean — and what are the standards to which fair trade products are held?
The Principles of Fair Trade
What does fair trade mean, and why is it important? Put as simply as possible, fair trade is a set of business principles that prioritize the health, economic stability, human rights, and independence of disadvantaged producers of things all over the world. This generally means individuals and families in developing or war-torn countries, but it can also mean a commitment to a fair supply chain that doesn’t use child or forced labor. It often includes a commitment to environmental responsibility, as well.
The thing to remember about fair trade is that very often, the focus is on fair economic practices that benefit small producers. It’s a way of making sure, at least in part, that the money you spend is going to support the economic stability and development of people who make things or farm those products.
There are different specific principles depending on the organization that certifies a particular fair trade label, some for example, reference a respect for cultural identity, but they normally follow common themes that prioritize working conditions, fair payment, accountability, and lack of discrimination.
The Differences Between Fair Trade Labels
One point of confusion is, what does the fair trade label mean? The key to understanding fair trade labels is working out what exactly each type means and how thorough each accreditation process is. There are several different non-profit organizations that accredit fair trade labels for products, which is, on the one hand, excellent news — because it means that the movement toward ethical business practices is growing! On the other hand, it can be difficult to know exactly what kinds of guarantees are made by each label.
This can be doubly confusing because there are labels given out by accrediting organizations (which have a vetting process), and then there are labels given out by membership groups, which are voluntary and do not accredit. That isn’t to say that the members of these organizations are less committed to fair trade; quite the contrary. Membership organizations require their business members to adhere to a strict set of standards and business practices. In some cases, a membership label might be better than an accreditation label, if the accreditation has, for example, only one fair trade ingredient among many that aren’t. Identifying the label is the first step in knowing whether the product is a group member or certified fair trade. From there, you can investigate how much of the product is fair trade and how committed the company creating it adheres to fair trade practices.
Fair trade certifications from different organizations also carry different labels, so learning which label belongs to which group is the best way to become an informed consumer. The first and best step is to learn to recognize whether something is certified or not. From there, you can choose to do deeper research about what aspects of the product specifically are fair trade or what percentage of the product is fair trade.
For example, bulk products like coffee, tea, or kratom can come from a variety of growers and farms of all sizes. It isn’t uncommon for some producers to draw from several different sources, and combine them for sale. It is possible that not every link in the supply chain is committed to fair trade, and ensuring they do requires diligence on the part of everyone involved. At Kratom Spot, we work carefully to ensure our kratom is always sourced directly from independent farmers with a commitment to fair trade practices. When you come across a product, you can ask yourself what does the fair trade label mean and decide for yourself if you align with that level of commitment.
The Importance of Fair Trade Certification
Certifying products as fair trade, and being part of a fair trade community means more than a catchy label and more than good vibes. It’s about cultivating economically and environmentally sustainable communities around the world, as well as delivering better products to you. Fair trade means that you can be sure every strain of kratom we sell hasn’t come from a factory farm and that the way we handle the entire supply chain is ethical.
With fair trade products, everyone wins, which is why rigorous certification processes and high standards for member groups are vital. Poor labor practices and poor environmental practices can sneak into a product’s origin without even the business selling it noticing. Fair trade takes active diligence and commitment; it needs to be part of a company’s core values.
While some labeling can be confusing, fair trade labels should increase your confidence that the product you’re buying isn’t just fulfilling your needs but helping to create better standards of business globally, for independent producers and customers.